Too soon for gingerbread cookies? I hear everyone who put up their Christmas tree this weekend shouting, “No!” These are for you, my cinnamon candle-burning, Nat King Cole-playing friends. I appreciate your enthusiasm.
I usually get all bah-humbug Christmas baby this time of year, since the holiday completely overshadows my December 25th birthday if I’m not careful. I’m already planning my 30th birthday celebrations (with help, thankfully!) and have resolved to embrace the holiday cheer this time around. I might even put up a Christmas tree. A tiny one, with white Christmas lights. That sounds lovely.
I’ll probably make more batches of gingerbread cookies to share with friends this year, too, now that I’ve perfected the recipe. They’re so fun to make! I made a few simple substitutions to turn classic gingerbread cookies into healthier gingerbread cookies, without sacrificing flavor.
The result is a dough that is remarkably easy to make (no mixer required) and manage (it might as well be Play-Doh!).
How to Make Healthier Gingerbread Cookies
My substitutions include swapping coconut oil for butter, coconut sugar for brown sugar and whole wheat pastry flour for all purpose. All of those ingredients are becoming more mainstream now as their health benefits become more apparent.
Whole wheat pastry flour is one of my favorite subtle nutrition upgrades. It possesses all of the health benefits of whole wheat flour, but it’s more finely ground, lighter in taste and produces marvelously tender whole grain goodies.
It’s a great substitute for all-purpose flour in cookies, pie crusts and in many recipes that call for baking powder and/or baking soda for leavening. (You don’t want to use whole wheat pastry flour in yeasted recipes, like pizza dough. It just won’t work.)
These cookies turned out perfectly with 100 percent whole wheat pastry flour. I don’t think anyone would be able to tell that these cookies are made with whole grain flour! They’re crisp, spiced and delicious.
Molasses & Spice Notes
You can control the level of spice and flavor intensity by carefully choosing your molasses. I tried a lighter molasses and blackstrap molasses. The light molasses produces cookies with lighter color and flavor, naturally. If you’re making these cookies for kids with sensitive palates, you might want to choose light molasses and maybe even use half of the spices specified below.
If you want dark, intense cookies with an almost dark chocolate-level of richness, use blackstrap molasses and the full amount of spices. Blackstrap molasses offers greater nutritional value as well, since both the flavors and minerals present in molasses are more concentrated. Who would have guessed that a by-product in sugar production could be so high in potassium, iron, Vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium?
How to Decorate Your Cookies
You also have a few options when it comes to decorating your cookies. You could enjoy them plain, of course. They are not overtly sweet, though, and they look more festive with some decoration.
Options include sprinkling the cookie dough shapes with sparkling turbinado (raw) sugar or dusting them with additional coconut sugar before baking. You can ice them with the lemony icing offered below, which requires some powdered sugar (here’s how to make your own with less refined sugar) and/or sprinkle them with powdered sugar, which looks like snow. You could use a traditional royal icing, which calls for raw egg yolks and completely hardens on the cookie. Or, you could melt chocolate chips and drizzle chocolate on top. It’s up to you!
Healthier Gingerbread Cookies
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 10 mins
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 32 cookies 1x
- Category: Cookie
- Method: By hand
- Cuisine: American
Here’s a healthy version of your favorite classic gingerbread cookies! This gingerbread cookie recipe is healthier because of a few simple substitutions—I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for all purpose flour, coconut oil for butter and coconut sugar for brown sugar. See notes provided in the paragraphs above for tips and suggestions on choosing your molasses and decorations. Recipe yields around 32 cookies, depending on their size.
- 3 cups (310 grams) Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour*, plus more for work surface
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup melted coconut oil
- ½ cup unsulphured molasses (use regular molasses for lighter, somewhat spicy cookies or blackstrap molasses for very spicy, intensely flavored cookies—or a mixture of both)
- ½ cup packed coconut sugar
- 1 large egg
- Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Lemon icing (optional)
- ½ cup powdered sugar (here’s how to make your own)
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest (optional, for intense lemon flavor)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons lemon juice
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, pepper, baking soda and baking powder. Whisk until blended.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the coconut oil and molasses and whisk until combined. Add the coconut sugar and whisk until blended. (If the sugar is gloppy and won’t incorporate into the mixture, warm the mixture for about 20 seconds in the microwave or over low heat on the stove, just until you can whisk it all together.) Add the egg and whisk until the mixture is thoroughly blended.
- Pour the liquid mixture into the dry and mix just until combined. (If it seems like you don’t have enough liquid, just keep mixing!) Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a round disc about 1 inch thick and wrap it in plastic wrap. Place both discs in the refrigerator and chill until cold—about 1 hour, or up to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the middle and upper third of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour your working surface and roll out one of your discs out until it’s ¼ inch thick. If the dough is very hard or crumbly, just roll it as best you can and then let it rest for a few minutes to warm up. Repeat until you’ve successfully rolled the dough to ¼ inch thickness.
- Use cookie cutters to cut out cookie shapes and place each cookie on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about ½ inch of space around each one (this dough just barely expands during baking). Combine your dough scraps into a ball and roll them out again, repeating until you have used up all of your dough. Repeat with remaining disc. (If you’d like to decorate the cookies with granulated sugar like turbinado or extra coconut sugar, sprinkle it onto the cookies now.)
- Place baking sheets in the oven, one on the middle rack and one on the upper. Bake for 8 to 11 minutes; for softer cookies, pull them out around 8 minutes and for more crisp cookies, bake for up to 11 minutes. The cookies will further crisp as they cool. Place the baking sheets on cooling racks to cool.
- If you’d like to ice the cookies and/or sprinkle them with powdered sugar, wait until they have completely cooled to do so. To make the icing, in a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, optional lemon zest and the lemon juice. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Transfer the icing into a small Ziploc bag, squeeze out any excess air and seal the bag. Cut off a tiny piece of one of the lower corners and squeeze icing through the hole to decorate the cookies as desired. The frosting will harden eventually, but it won’t ever be as indestructible as royal icing.
- If you’d like to sift powdered sugar over the cookies, do it now. Wait until the icing has firmed up (about 1 hour) before carefully stacking the cookies in a storage container. Cookies will keep for up to 1 week at room temperature.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart, on Smitten Kitchen’s recommendation. Recipe updated 12/17/18 to remove whole wheat flour as an option—it doesn’t work well. My sincere apologies to anyone who was disappointed by their cookies.
*Flour notes: This recipe works great with whole wheat pastry flour. You can find generally whole wheat pastry flour at well-stocked grocery stores, as well as health food stores. All-purpose flour will also work. The dough tends to be hard and crumbly when made with regular whole wheat flour so I don’t recommend it. Also, to measure your flour properly, spoon the flour into your measuring cups and level off the top with a knife.
Make it vegan/egg free: I haven’t tried, but based on other recipes, I think you could successfully substitute a flax egg in this recipe, or maybe even use 3 tablespoons applesauce instead of the egg.
▸ Nutrition Information
This post was created in partnership with Bob’s Red Mill and I received compensation for my participation. Opinions are my own, always. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who support C+K!